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UNM Organizes Financing for Economic Development Projects

Regents review proposals

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Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol

The UNM Board of Regents met Friday to discuss financing for two real estate projects that would become the physical foundation for Innovate Albuquerque. The projects were presented as a package.

The first project is the purchase of Aperture Center in the Mesa del Sol development in the south part of Albuquerque. UNM currently owns five percent of the building as part of a prior land development deal. Two UNM programs already use space in the building. The Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media Program has offices and work space there so they can be in close proximity to Albuquerque Studios.

The Center for Emerging Energy Technologies, a part of the UNM School of Engineering, is currently conducting research into integrating renewable energy sources into the electrical grid. The research is in collaboration with NEDO, a consortium of Japanese companies and PNM, an Albuquerque-based electrical utility.

The proposed package deal would set aside $5.6 million from the UNM Foundation Regent’s Endowment to purchase and improve Aperture Center. An actual vote on whether to use funds from the Regents Endowment at the UNM Foundation has been postponed until a special meeting in January 2014. 

The third floor of the building is already in use, but the first and second floors of the building are currently shell space and will need improvements to make useful work and collaboration spaces. STC.UNM is planning to move its offices into the 3rd floor and plans to use it as a co-working space. STC.UNM will also establish an incubator for startup businesses for UNM staff and faculty. 

The regents heard a presentation that mentioned the interest of some corporate entities in renting space in the building to be closer to the startup incubator. If the Board of Regents votes to purchase Aperture Center, planning and construction could begin in the next few months.

The second project is longer term and is a cooperative effort with the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union and potentially Bernalillo County. It would eventually be the headquarters for the Innovate Albuquerque project. Plans call for the purchase of the old First Baptist Church building and surrounding property at the corner of Broadway and Central NE. The cost of purchasing the seven acre Baptist Church property is anticipated to be approximately $6.8 million.

UNM has received word from the Economic Development Administration of a $1.5 million grant that can be used to help purchase the property.  The City of Albuquerque is expected to contribute $2 million, and the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union has pledged $3 million over the next three years. UNM would contribute $638,107 from the Regents Endowment at the UNM Foundation. As part of the project a master plan for the property and design guidelines would be done, which would bring the total cost to $7,136,155.

“We believe this is a very important part of the community engagement mission of the university,” said UNM President Robert Frank. “We want to have a great place for our students to use as they create businesses that will become a strong part of the local economy.” 

Regents requested information about the potential usability of the old First Baptist Church building. The structure was built in the 1930’s. There are two other large buildings on the property, a classroom building and a gymnasium. 

The regents also requested more information about a plume of fuel contamination of groundwater below the site. The contamination comes from the rail yards and the BN&SF has responsibility for potential cleanup if needed. The current environmental plan for the plume is to allow degradation of the contaminants over time without active remediation. Regents requested written information about the contamination issue.

Frank is working with Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry. Together, they are actively working to create a business district that can combine spaces to work, live and play. Frank said creating a district just down the street from UNM will give student and faculty entrepreneurs close access to university resources. Berry is enthusiastic about revitalizing an older business area along Central Ave.

Lisa Kuuttila, the president of STC and the chief economic development officer for UNM said the long range vision for the effort extends beyond Albuquerque. “We would like to develop co-working space where individuals could come into the area and rent an office or a cubicle as they put together a business plan and we would like to extend this idea to into other areas of the state,” she said.

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